If you want to look your best, feel your best and have the energy to do everything you love to do (and then some!) – protein is a key addition to your supplement regime.
Protein makes up 15-20% of our bodyweight and is the second most abundant substance in our body (after water). It’s essential for the proper functioning of our entire body – so of course it makes sense to supplement.
But, wait! It’s not as simple as going to the store and picking up just any protein. Protein supplements are not one-size-fits-all and different proteins have different effects in the body. When faced with a wall of protein products (Whey! Soy! Collagen! Concentrates! Isolates!) it can be a little tricky to make the right choice.
Not to fret – a little guidance can go a long way in determining the best protein for you.
Protein basics: amino acids
Protein is all about the amino acids. These are the building blocks of proteins that are obtained from our diet and generated in our own body – and they’re what make the difference when choosing a protein supplement.
In complete dietary protein sources, all “essential” amino acids are present in sufficient quantities. “Essential” means that we need to obtain them through diet because our body cannot synthesize them. A high-quality whey protein powder, or multi-sourced vegan protein supplement have higher levels of these essential amino acids – delivering complete proteins that nourish, support athletic performance and recovery, stabilize blood sugar and more.
But what about collagen—is it a complete protein source? Collagen contains a different spectrum of amino acids than protein powders do and is lower in essential amino acids that we can’t make on our own—especially tryptophan and leucine—meaning that collagen is not a complete protein. However, collagen is higher in glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, amino acids required by the body to properly generate collagen, providing strength and structure to our body. That’s why people rave about collagen’s effect on their skin and joints!
So, which protein is right for you?
As with any nutritional supplement, your choice of protein depends on what you’re looking to achieve. So, ask yourself:
Am I looking to maintain lean muscle mass and/or feel fuller between meals?
- Stick with a whey or multi-source vegan protein powder. We need more protein than we think! In 2016, an expert panel of nutritional scientists advised that daily protein intake recommendations should increase from the RDA of 0.8g per kg of body weight, to at least 1.2 to 1.6 g per kg[i]. Why? Because the research surrounding protein intake and the maintenance of lean body mass, satiety/appetite regulation, healthy aging, and athletic performance has increased immensely.
How to buy:
- With whey proteins, look for a whey protein isolate that’s at least 90% Also, make sure that your whey protein comes from grass-fed milk and doesn’t contain a long list of additives, like proteins+.
- If you’re buying a vegan protein, look for a multi-source protein, as single-source vegan proteins don’t provide the optimal spectrum of amino acids (i.e.. aren’t complete proteins). Vegan proteins are also notorious for being hard to digest, causing gas and bloating, so look for a fully fermented multi-source vegan protein like fermented organic vegan proteins+ that won’t puff you up!
How to use protein to maintain lean muscle and/or feel fuller:
- Add a scoop of protein to your morning smoothie, oatmeal or overnight oats to make your breakfast more filling.
- Shake up a scoop with water or a milk alternative to fuel you between meals.
- Stick with one serving per day.
Am I looking to power my workouts, for better performance and recovery?
- Stick with whey protein and consider supplementing with collagen as well. Whey protein has high levels of leucine, one of the “branched chain” amino acids that’s known for its ability to build muscle. Head-to-head research shows that whey (vs. collagen) gets more leucine into the bloodstream, increases markers of muscle growth, and prevents the loss of lean muscle2,3. Plus, whey is digested quickly, making it ideal for pre- and post-workout.
How to buy:
- Aim for 1.5g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
- Look for a whey protein isolate with at least 90% protein made from grass-fed milk and does not contain a long list of additives (like proteins+!).
How to use:
- Mix one scoop in a shake post-workout to refuel your muscles.
Bonus protein: Collagen has also been shown to improve physical performance and shorten recovery time, should you find yourself injured 4.
Do I want to improve the hydration and look of my skin/ improve joint health/feel great overall?
Look for a highly-absorbable collagen supplement with at least 10 grams of hydrolyzed collagen peptides per serving, and made from sustainably-sourced marine or bovine.
The many benefits of oral collagen come from its unique peptides—the way the amino acids line up in small units. These peptides have been studied to:
- Improve skin hydration & diminish the visible signs of aging5
- Improve cardiovascular function6
- Improve physical performance and recovery4
- Reduce joint discomfort and improve recovery from sports-related injuries7
- Improve bone mineral density8
- Improve wellbeing5
Do I want it all? The benefits of lean muscle, satiety, AND hydrated skin, reduced signs of aging, improved joint health, bone mineral density and more?
- Double up, with a high-quality protein AND a highly absorbable marine- or bovine-sourced collagen supplement.
If you have adequate intake of essential amino acids in your diet and through other sources, adding a highly absorbable collagen like clean collagen can fortify the benefits of optimal protein and exercise!
So, don’t be daunted when it comes to choosing the right protein powder. This simple guide will help you identify what you’re looking to gain from taking a protein supplement, so you can simply choose the protein(s) that are going to work for you!
1Phillips SM. Current Concepts and Unresolved Questions in Dietary Protein Requirements and Supplements in Adults. Front Nutr. 2017 May 8;4:13
2Impey SG. Whey Protein Augments Leucinemia and Post exercise p70S6K1 Activity Compared with a Hydrolyzed Collagen Blend When in Recovery from Training with Low Carbohydrate Availability. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metabol 2018;28:651-659
3Oikawa SY, et al. A randomized controlled trial of the impact of protein supplementation on leg lean mass and integrated muscle protein synthesis during inactivity and energy restriction in older persons. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;108(5):1060-1068
4Lopez, et al. Evaluation of the Effects of BioCell Collagen, a Novel Cartilage Extract, on Connective Tissue Support and Functional Recovery from Exercise. Integr Med. 2015 Jun;14(3):30-8.
5Czajka, et al. Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Nutr Res 2018 In Press
6Igase, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical study of the effect of pork collagen peptide supplementation on atherosclerosis in healthy older individuals. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2018 Feb 15:1-3
7Zdzieblik, et al. Improvement of activity-related knee joint discomfort following supplementation of specific collagen peptides. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017 Jun;42(6):588-595
8Konig, et al Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women-A Randomized Controlled Study. Nutrients. 2018 Jan 16;10(1). pii: E97
9Alcock RD, et al. Bone Broth Unlikely to Provide Reliable Concentrations of Collagen Precursors Compared with Supplemental Sources of Collagen Used in Collagen Research. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018 Sep 26:1-8